By Rob Chakler
TRENTON, N.J. – After a three-year absence from professional hockey, Trenton Devils center Joe Gerbe is just happy to be back in the swing of things.
The T-Devils signed the left-hander on Oct. 3 knowing he hadn’t played an ECHL game since the 2004-05 season. He spent two years in the league with the Greensboro Generals and Johnstown Chiefs after attending the University of New Brunswick. For his career, he’s scored 97 goals and collected 242 points in 306 games.
Standing at 5-foot-7, Gerbe, 28, is forced to work harder for every inch on the ice than every other player because of his small stature. His time out of hockey forced him to work harder than he ever would on an ice surface.
The Oxford, Mich., native returned home after playing 16 games for the Bossier-Shreveport Mudbugs of the CHL in 2005 to do construction and take care of his family. He put in twice the amount of hours during a normal work week and found himself questioning why he left the game in the first place.
“I was working construction back home and not really doing a whole lot,” Gerbe said. “I was taking care of my wife and kid. The last two or three years I’ve been in construction and working 70 hours a week. I didn’t really have any time to work out or anything like that until this summer. Things were pretty slow back in Michigan.”
The brunt of a long work week and the absence of skating on the rink made his decision easier to return to professional hockey. His older brother, Nathan – a Boston University graduate and current player of the Portland Pirates of the American Hockey League – convinced him to return.
So why did he walk away?
“It was a lot of things, Gerbe said. “I wasn’t happy with myself and the way things were headed (in my career). And then that summer my wife was expecting a baby so I figured it was time to walk away. I didn’t realize how much I miss it. Three years later I have a brother still that’s still playing and he told me if I miss it that much I should come back.”
Not only did Gerbe have to get himself back in playing shape to endure the long 72-game regular-season schedule, but he also had to find a team that would give him a chance after not playing for three years. He spent the summer working out with his brother and lost about 20 pounds to get that opportunity.
“It was hard for me to break into this league,” Gerbe said. “It was hard for me to return to some veteran teams. I played in Greensboro and Johnstown but Rick (Kowalsky) and Vince (Williams) gave me a shot here. And Chris Lamorello gave me a shot here knowing I hadn’t played in three years which was unbelievable. For me if I come to the rink and enjoy myself and work hard I think everything else will fall in place. I’m a guy that’s kind of an exciting player I guess. I move my feet, I hit bodies and hopefully can put some points on the board.”
It may take Gerbe some time to get back in playing shape and get his skating legs under him to make it through a seven-month, marathon season, but in his first games back in action – two preseason games at Elmira – he recorded two goals.
“It was unbelievable,” Gerbe said. “After that first game I sat back and remembered why I missed playing so much. Being in the locker room with the guys and the adrenaline on the ice, it just made it a lot better coming back now than where I was before. It just takes so time to get timing back and my speed back. But it’s been fun and I’ve had a great time.”